(Reuters) – Children under the age of five carried large amounts of the coronavirus into the upper respiratory tract, according to a small study published on Thursday that raises new questions about whether children can infect others.
Data on children as a source of coronavirus are scarce, and early reports have found no strong evidence that children are major contributors to the deadly virus, which has killed 669,632 people worldwide.
Understanding the potential of transmission in children will be key to developing public health guidelines, said the researchers, who published the study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
Between March 23 and April 27, 2020, a research team from Anne and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital and Northwestern University tested smear collections from inpatient, outpatient, emergency departments, and testing sites in Chicago, Illinois.
The study included 145 people between the ages of one month and 65 years with mild to moderate COVID-19 levels, who were studied in three groups: children under five, children 5 to 17, and adults 18 to 65.
Their analysis shows that in young children the viral load was 10 times to 100 times greater than in adults in the upper respiratory tract.
Viral loads in older children with COVID-19 are similar to those in adults. This study found more viral nucleic acid – the genetic codes of proteins to produce new viruses – in children under 5 years of age.
The study looked at only the viral nucleic acid, not the infectious virus, so it is unclear whether children will spread the virus.
However, the prevalence among young children is a concern about their behavioral habits, as well as their proximity to schools and children’s institutions, as public health constraints are reduced, the researchers said.
In addition to the public health implications, the researchers note that the results may help focus this population by focusing on immunization efforts when COVID-19 vaccines become available.
(Report by Vishwadha Chander in Bengaluru; Edited by Aurora Ellis)